A special Fantasia birthday at Radio City Music Hall.

by Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci

My very first moviegoing experience turned out to be simply a warm-up, a dry run: I was about five years old, and I went to the Interboro Theater in the Bronx, where our family lived at the time, to see The Sound of Music (1965). It would have been great, except that I was still afraid of the dark back then, and I cried my eyes out until my dad came to pick me up during the intermission! Luckily, that was only a dry run.

Five years later, I’d conquered my fear of the dark, and now I was a worldly lass of ten who’d discovered the joys of Walt Disney movies. I’d lived in New York City for most of my life, mostly moving back and forth between Manhattan and the Bronx over the years. That changed when my husband Vinnie and I got married, and our daughter Siobhan was born in 1996, and we eventually moved to Northeastern Pennsylvania to follow the job Vinnie had at the time. When we lived in NYC, it was easy to see then-new, now-classic films for the first time in great movie theaters like the Coronet, the Baronet, the Criterion, our beloved Ziegfeld Theatre, and many revival movie houses, even if some of them ended up chopped into multiplexes later on. Still, what a treat it was to have those kind of movies and theaters readily accessible!

My mom was a savvy city girl herself, and she knew my tenth birthday called for something special. We decided to put together a small but meaningful guest list, with a nice mix of my favorite friends and cousins, six of them in all. Mom took us to New York City for a very special treat: a matinee of Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940) at Radio City Music Hall (RCMH), with the Rockettes dancing and everything! Fair Warning: Much to my consternation, I can’t find the photos of us girls for love or money (no doubt they’ll turn up the minute I no longer need them—oy!), so I’m afraid you’ll just have to bear with me and take my word for it. But at least we have pictures of RCMH and the Horn & Hardart (more about that momentarily)!

Since I was a candy fiend at the time, normally my attention would have been focused on the candy counter, but as we all entered RCMH’s beautiful mammoth theater, the elegance of the place had all of us happily gobsmacked. Even the restrooms were gorgeous! Not that we didn’t get a sensible amount of soda and candy, but Mom reminded us we’d be having lunch afterward, so she wouldn’t let us go overboard with the goodies. With its stunning Art Deco design, RCMH was like a cathedral for movie lovers. Soon the movie began, accompanied by our host/commentator Deems Taylor’s droll but friendly introductions to the music of Tchaikovsky. (Vinnie and I were delighted when our daughter Siobhan fell in love with the Nutcracker Suite in first grade, and still loves it today!)

It was the first visit to RCMH for some of us girls. One of my young friends, Jennifer from New Rochelle, was so amazed to be there, she felt like she’d beamed in from a whole different planet, but in a good way. It was certainly the first time a couple of the girls had ever seen Fantasia, or heard any classical music, for that matter. Just watching the moving colors along with the beautiful classical music selections was a treat in itself, especially with the accompaniment of classic Disney animation. I think it might well have been the first time I’d heard Fantasia’s take on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite (love those adorable scurrying mushrooms!), or Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Joann Sebastian Bach, with its graceful, playful fairy imagery.

With The Sorceror’s Apprentice, we were laughing out loud over Mickey Mouse falling asleep at the switch while the magical brooms went forth and multiplied, making us increasingly nervous when Mickey’s broken broom morphed into countless brooms and enough pails of water to drown a mouse! We couldn’t resist the frolicking yet tasteful young centaurs and centaurettes in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, doing kind of a classical, clean-cut Bacchanal (complete with a good-naturedly inebriated Baccus!), doing kind of a mythological spring break. The dinosaurs in Rite of Spring were a hit with a group of Boy Scouts sitting farther down the aisle, with all the cool prehistoric beasties. The boys also enjoyed Mussorgsky’s dramatic, majestic Night on Bald Mountain, with (we later learned) a rotoscoped Bela Lugosi as the demon Chernabog, though Mom was quite moved by Ave Maria. I’ll admit the favorite of us girls was Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours with hippo, ostriches, and alligators turning the whole thing into a delightful farce worthy of The Marx Brothers!

But the fun didn’t stop there. We had lunch in the Horn & Hardart Automat. Mom had been used to it from working in Manhattan herself, so to her it was no big deal, but when she saw we girls were getting a kick out of the little glass cases with sandwiches, salads, and tasty slices of cake waiting to be devoured, she got into the spirit of the thing. We even got candles to put on our slices of vanilla and chocolate cake! Now that’s what I call a cool New York birthday! (Granted, I’ve always been notoriously easy to please!)


Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci, who writes fiction as “Dorian Tenore” to give the world’s typesetters a break, has served as Communications Director for the sales/leadership coaching firm Performance Based Results. She was a researcher for renowned author David Hajdu’s books Positively 4th Street and The Ten-Cent Plague (2008). A native New Yorker who has been living in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 2001, Dorian has a fifteen-year-old daughter, Siobhan, and she’s happily married to fellow blogger Vinnie Bartilucci (Is That Really Desirable? and The Forty-Year-Old Fanboy). She is currently polishing two of her comedy-thriller novels with ghost editor Nicole Bokat, and she writes about suspense movies and fiction on her blog Tales of the Easily Distracted.

16 thoughts on “A special Fantasia birthday at Radio City Music Hall.

  1. I saw Fantasia in the theaters when it was re-released in the late-eighties, and not in nearly as opulent a place as The Wife. But it was made special by the company I saw it with.

    I had the pleasure to see it sitting directly in front of a family of fundamentalist Christians.

    Oh, how interesting the conversation during Rite of Spring was. The kids recognized all the dinosaurs, not by their scientific names, but by their names from The Land Before Time. But after a few minutes of joyous excitement, Dad brought them all back down to Earth by asking “Now you know how all this REALLY happened, right?”

    In staggered unison, the kids all answered “Jesus.” One, the youngest and cutest sounding (I couldn’t bring myself to turn around) piped up, “Jesus made the dinosaurs, Daddy!”

    I gotta make that a T-shirt one day.

    • Vinnie, I’m tickled that you shared that anecdote here at True Classics; it’s always been one of my favorites among our family anecdotes! That reminds me of another of our family anecdotes in a similar vein — remember when our niece Jennifer was still a tiny tyke, and your mom was teaching li’l Jen about miracles (us having been raised as Catholics)? Jen furrowed her little brow as she tried to remember what and where miracles came from. Suddenly, Jen brightened, and perkily declared, “Fairies!” That may well have been one of the world’s earliest uses of the facepalm, at least for your dear mom! 🙂

    • Thanks, Ruth! Thinking back over our FANTASIA birthday party, it amazes me how a typical jaded adult’s run-of-the-mill lunch at the Automat seemed so special to us at the time — and even more so now that the Automat is only a memory. That’s the great thing about writing: it’s another great way to keep these happy memories alive in our hearts and heads! 🙂

  2. Brandie, thanks for letting me contribute to your wonderful series about our first movie memories! I had a great time reliving my delightful 10th birthday at the inimitable Radio City Music Hall, and I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about it. You came up with such a great idea for this series; thanks for letting me be part of it and letting me play in your garden! And of course, you’re always welcome here at Team Bartilucci’s garden as well! 🙂

    • Caftan Woman, thanks so much for your praise! I truly value your comments and friendship, and I’m delighted that you enjoyed my happy memories as much as I enjoyed them originally first-hand! 🙂

  3. Dorian, Wonderful childhood memories! RCMH was such fantastic place, elegant and magical. My first time there, that I can remember, was in 1961with my parents to see COME SEPTEMBER. I remember Horn and Hardardt’s Automat very well. It was so much fun just putting in the nickels and dimes and seeing the little window pop open. The food was an extra bonus. Anyone not familar with Horn and Hardad’s should chek out the movie EASY LIVING with Jean Arthur and Ray Milland. Thanks for sharing!

    • John, thanks for your kind praise of my FANTASIA reminiscences! I enjoyed reading about your own fond reminiscences of Horn & Hardart, too; it was almost more like playing than eating! 🙂 Your mention of the Horn & Hardart scene in EASY LIVING reminds me that I must give that film my undivided attention sometime soon; my first exposure to it was at our gal Page’s blog MY LOVE OF OLD HOLLYWOOD! 🙂

  4. Dorian, what a delightful recollection! Have you ever taken the RCMH tour (if it’s still offered)? There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes as well…

    My first viewing of “Fantasia,” around 1971/2, consisted of two straitlaced people (me and my mom) and 648 hippies. (I’d seen hippies on “The Huntley-Brinkley Report,” but this was the first time I witnessed them en masse in my own community.) A standing ovation for Mickey Mouse. Mock-shock exclamations of “Shame!” and “This is G-rated, huh?” during shots of the bare-breasted centaurettes. A peculiar, yet appealing, scent in the air that eventually formed a cloud above the rocking-chair seats (one side of the newly minted Ultra-Vision Twin Theatre, once the go-to for anything in extreme widescreen).

    • Steve, I got a huge kick out of your own wonderful anecdote about seeing FANTASIA! I saw FANTASIA well after the “flower power” era, but my older brother told us some hilarious stories about hippies getting high in the theater. And yes, I’m happy to say I have indeed taken and enjoyed the RCMH tour (which I believe may still be there)! In fact, while my family and I were taking the tour, our guide mentioned that by then RCMH only showed movies for special occasions such as World Premieres — and later that year they were going to show a gala world premiere for the upcoming James Bond movie GOLDENEYE (I’m dating myself, I know :-)). Even better, we mere mortals could buy tickets to the show! And so it was that a few months later, Vinnie and I and other friends and family members saw and loved the World Premiere RCMH screening of GOLDENEYE, complete with the main cast coming onstage, including Mom’s heartthrob Pierce Brosnan and Team B. fave Desmond Llewelyn, Q himself! Talk about A Night to Remember! 🙂

    • Thanks, Kim! We really had a great time, and really, Mom deserved the kudos for making my FANTASIA RCMH birthday wish come true! Truly, she was the awesome!

  5. I didn’t know the Rockettes came with the movies. I always thought they were a separate show. Seems RCMH gives a ticket holder their money’s worth.

    “My Mon was a savvy city girl herself”. Well there’s my vote for Biggest Understatement You’ve Ever Written.

    And I always wanted to eat at an Automat (just to flash onto all the scenes in movies that have involved them). You’ve always had a nice touch with personal reminisces, Dorian, and this is another wonderful example.

    • Setebos01, my friend, I’m so glad to have you joining the fun and happy memories here with the lovely and talented ladies of True Classics! Back when I was a young’un, I definitely remember the Rockettes being part of the whole show, though since then, Radio City Music Hall only seems to run movies for truly special occasions such as the GOLDENEYE World Premiere I discussed above with Steve. Nowadays, RCMH seems to primarily focus on concerts and stage shows like the ones for Christmas and such.

      You had me grinning from ear to ear with your response about my dear late mom: “’My Mom was a savvy city girl herself”. Well there’s my vote for Biggest Understatement You’ve Ever Written.'” (For those who came in late, Setebos and Steve and I have been close friends and writing colleagues almost since before PCs were a staple of the average household. These fine gents are like Team Bartilucci’s Fifth and Sixth Beatles, bless them!. :-)) Thanks for your kind words about our personal reminiscences, dear friend!

      P.S.: Someone should put together a Chuck Workman-style tribute to Automats in the movies, if they haven’t done so already! 🙂

  6. Pingback: Here’s Linking at You, Kid- May 23 : The Cinementals

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